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FILE – In this Dec. 7, 2009 file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stands with Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. As Hillary Rodham Clinton’s supporters urge her to run for president in 2016, the former first lady/senator/secretary of state makes her first public appearance since leaving government. Many Democrats see Clinton as the party’s early front-runner, and some want her to signal her interest soon to lock down donors and supporters. Fueling the 2016 chatter: Vice President Joe Biden, another possible candidate, will speak at the same awards ceremony. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton, perhaps as popular as ever in her 22 years in national politics, is taking steps as a private but famous citizen that fuel fans’ hopes she will run for president in 2016.

Clinton, who resigned in February after a much-praised stint as secretary of state, was scheduled to speak late Tuesday at an awards ceremony at Washington’s Kennedy Center.

Her first public speech since leaving the State Department seemed unlikely to produce a major policy or political address. But political buzz about 2016 is inevitable, especially since Vice President Joe Biden — another potential Democratic candidate — was scheduled to speak later at the same event.

Clinton, 65, has said she has no plans for a second presidential bid, but she hasn’t ruled it out. Democrats argue among themselves whether she has the desire and energy to go through the grueling campaign process she knows so well.

But many see her as a prohibitive favorite whose big head start might deny funds and volunteers to other contenders.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in January found that 67 percent of Americans held a favorable view of Clinton. That’s her highest rating since the poll began measuring her popularity in the 1990s. It includes her eight years in the Senate.

“It’s hard to overstate the breadth and depth of enthusiasm for a Hillary run,” said Doug Hattaway, a former Clinton campaign aide and now a Washington-based consultant. She built a national base of supporters in 2008, when she lost a hard-fought nomination fight to Barack Obama, and she’s widely respected after heading the State Department, Hattaway said.

“A lot of donors, volunteers and potential campaign workers will wait to hear what she decides before committing to other candidates,” he said, although “anyone with their eye on 2016 is already working on it.”

A group called Ready for Hillary launched its fundraising campaign Tuesday and planned to rally outside the Kennedy Center during Clinton’s appearance.

Mo Elleithee, a top spokesman for Clinton’s 2008 campaign, said it’s much too early to press her for an answer.

“My advice to everyone is to chill out,” Elleithee said. “There’s no need for all this breathless anticipation,” he said, adding that political activists should focus on next year’s mid-term elections.

Noting that Clinton has said she has no intention of running, Elleithee said, “I think that’s where her head is.” But he said he shares “the enthusiasm” for a Clinton candidacy.

There may be no one in America with a clearer view of what it takes to run for president.

Clinton was a highly visible adviser and defender of her husband, Bill, then the Arkansas governor, when he was elected president in 1992. Her eight years as first lady included the excruciating Monica Lewinsky scandal and her husband’s impeachment.

On the same day her husband’s successor was elected, Clinton handily won a Senate seat from New York. She breezed to re-election in 2006 and was the early favorite for the 2008 presidential nomination.

But Obama, then U.S. senator from Illinois, used his early opposition to the Iraq war, plus a keen understanding of how to win small states’ delegates, to outmaneuver the Clinton team. Obama promptly tapped his former rival to be secretary of state, assuring Clinton another prime post at the center of national policy and politics.

Some Democrats want younger candidates, noting that Clinton will turn 69 shortly before Election Day 2016, and Biden will turn 74 soon after. Those drawing notice include New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 55, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, 50.

As runner-up in the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton arguably is the party’s heir apparent. Republicans, not Democrats, typically nominate the next-in-line contender.

With the early GOP presidential picture wildly scrambled, it’s possible that Republicans will tap a newer, younger nominee while Democrats may turn to one of the nation’s best-known figures, and certainly the most high-profile female politician.

Clinton and Biden were appearing Tuesday at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, highlighting women’s issues. Clinton is scheduled to speak Friday at the Women in the World Summit in New York.

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